Amidst the narrow buildings of the national capital’s bustling and tony Khan Market stands a colonial-style faded-yellow construction, opening up to Town Hall, an eatery where the city’s top-notchers feasting on Japanese-quality sushi-sashimi and other comfort foods.
A quite old and eerie staircase leads up to the restaurant, which in the evening, is brightly lit with lamps and lights.
For those who love sushi, managing partner and executive chef Augusto Cabrera is a household name – arguably the "father of the sushi revolution" in the country as he is known popularly.
Sitting at the ‘Owner’s table’ of this rustic, vintage-themed restaurant, water was rushed in to the table in traditional tea kettles and was served in ‘chai’ glasses by some elegantly modern-dressed waitresses – a mixture of the modern and traditional fronts, which Cabrera, a Filipino, focusses on in every aspect.
The 90-cover restaurant is packed beyond its capacity on weekends and is extended to 150 covers on the roof-top. The tables set around the bar and a little too loud music for an afternoon plays in the background, which for nights could set a perfect theme.
Cabrera greeted me with a menu card and as I browsed through the starters and entrees section, he said: "Let me take care of you, I’ll get you the best of everything from the kitchen." This left me anticipating even higher from this sushi master.
The menu, again, had its own traditional touch. It was placed in a file which one would spot in government offices or town halls. Even as I mused over this, something on the wall caught my eye. Even the switches were of the type you would find in government offices!
"I wanted a place where families, friends would all love to dine-in together. So I needed a mixture of comfort cuisines of pizzas, pastas and momos along with my Japanese sushi on the menu," Cabrera told IANS on being asked about the range of cuisines featured.
I sat back, sipping a vodka-based ‘spiced lavender’, with the ginger titillating the palette, while lavender cleansed the mouth, making quite a refreshing drink for an afternoon.
Reminded of many recommendations of Cabrera’s Filipino pork, including those from a prominent critic-writer, Augusto’s pork belly proved them all right, soon after a bite into it.
The pork belly was barbecued, intensifying the flavours with a glaze of soy, a touch of ginger and spices into it. The tender pork belly was presented simple and neat, with the sauce served alongside, adding just the perfect balance of chili to the smoky meat.
It was now the time for some theatre on the table. Cabrera’s 16-piece sushi platter was placed before me. As I gathered my chopsticks, he came out of the kitchen with a blowtorch. A salsa of onions and tomatoes placed over each of the sushi’s was gently torched, allowing them to be very tenderly cooked.
Unlike many other sushi’s I’ve had, Cabrera’s had many distinct flavours to it. There was a prawn sushi, where the prawns were cooked in two ways and the hint of the vinegar in the rice added up to the sweetness of the prawns.
The salmon sushi had perfectly cooked rice. The salmon tasted clean, which I think was sliced of a whole fish just in time to be wrapped into the sushi.
The chef’s major creation was the sushi where he wrapped more than one variety of fish into the rice. This sushi was perfect and complete in itself that it did not really need wasabi and soy.
"We need the freshest fish in order to be able to produce a high quality sushi every day. So we source it from Japan on a regular basis," the chef said.
As the flavours still floated in the mouth, an appealing plate of yellow fin tuna sashimi soon came to my table. Cabrera had, it seemed, torn down the classic sashimi like one of the action sequences in "Matrix" and presented a completely different version of this favourite.
The sliced tuna was lined with the citric jalapenos beautifully cutting through the fish. The seaweed tasted fresh as the sea breeze, cleansing the mouth after each bite.
The contemporary plating, style and the bold combination of ingredients were an exemplar of this sushi master, who feeds over 1,000 hungry heads on weekends, on an average.
As I finished tasting, Cabrera led me to a Wall of Fame, where he pointed out political leaders like Congress president Sonia Gandhi, her son and party vice president Rahul Gandhi and others who had dined with him – and not to forget the B-town stars who one can spot every now and then at this restaurant.
Plans are on his mind to take the restaurant to other cities of the country as well, Cabrera said.
Where: Town Hall, Middle Circle lane, Khan Market
Meal for two: Rs.4,000 (without alcohol)
By Bhavana Akella